GUEST POST: The Mysteries of New York Real Estate

This, our first ever guest post, comes to us from A M Rosenthal, loyal commenter and #1 hater of the Real Estate section.  Th post was sent three months ago, became lost in the clogged tubes of the internet, and after a series of bizarre adventures finally found its way to me.  A M Rosenthal is not THE A M Rosenthal, and has never worked for the Times.
The New York Times does so many things so well. Just yesterday, while waiting for the clock to strike noon so I could dig into that yummy pitcher of mimosas taunting me from the fridge, I learned tons about radiation!
The odd thing is, the Times does a terrible job at explaining New York to itself. Egregious examples abound, some of them chronicled with great wit on this blog. To my mind, the worst offenders are the merry crew over at the Real Estate section. I would wager that every New Yorker who reads the New York Times has some interest in local real estate, and that it is a topic that would seem to be an inexhaustible source of stories about development and the economics of land use and population patterns and income distribution and disparities and… why hello there Renee Zellweger!
Renee, I loved you in Bridget Jones’s Diary and the sequel, Bridget Jones: Turn Off the Dark, or whatever it was called. Sorry about Bradley! I read the US Weekly article the Times referenced.  It broke my heart.
But I am so glad you unloaded those two white elephant apartments you owned on the Upper East Side.  I hope you got every penny of the $8.95 million you were asking for them.   And you sold them to Leelee Sobieski!  She seems like a nice girl. Wasn’t the musical “Gypsy” based on her life?  Gosh, I wouldn’t want to have her mother!
Renee, before you go, do you know these guys?  No?  You don’t spend a lot of time on that side of the Park?
These two remind me of a lot of my high school classmates. Wait a tick — no, they do not.
From the article:  “The fashion designer Carmen Marc Valvo and his partner, Christian Knaust, the president of Mr. Valvo’s couture house, were famous among their friends for hosting enormous cocktail parties in their apartment on the 28th floor of the Majestic on Central Park West.  Enormous, as in 200 people on average, Mr. Knaust said.”
But they, like all of us, are not getting younger and they want to simplify, so they are leaving the Majestic.  Their place sounds nice.  Eight rooms. That’s one room more than the house I grew up in had.  How much guys?
“Their city co-op had been listed since last spring, at $18.75 million, with Stribling and Associates, so last month they lowered the price to $16.9 million, although Mr. Knaust said they were not in a rush to sell and they wouldn’t come down much lower.”
Stick to your guns! Don’t accept a farthing less! But if you leave the Majestic where are you going to live?
“If they do receive an acceptable offer, [Mr. Knaust] said, they will buy a much smaller apartment in New York; they plan to spend summers in Sweden, winters in Costa Rica and most of the rest of the year in the Hamptons.”
I love the Hamptons in the Fall.  So much mellower.  Lots less traffic.  Much easier to get around in full Little Edie regalia.
You know who else is leaving Manhattan?
The Hunt is my FAVORITE feature in the Times. Do you know it?  Every week indefatigable Joyce Cohen tracks down someone looking for an apartment, sometimes a house if they’re in far-outer-borough land. I knew one of the hunters! Nice guy.  Happened to work for the Times but that was just a coincidence.
Anyway, isn’t this guy cute?  Ad guy who can afford two bedrooms near the South Street Seaport.  There is a Pizzeria Uno at the South Street Seaport.  Did he move there to be close to Pizzeria Uno, which might remind him of his Chicago hometown?  He graduated from something called Northern Illinois University.  Oh who cares, that would have been over 20 years ago.
So what’s his deal?

“’I realized I didn’t need to live in Manhattan.  I wasn’t going out two, three, four nights a week anymore. I was becoming a boring homebody.’  He was willing to consider any borough and any neighborhood, as long as he had subway access to his office near Grand Central Terminal.”

“He aimed for a one-bedroom in a building with a laundry room, for $1,600 to $2,000 a month, and quickly found a promising-sounding place in Riverdale, the Bronx, an area he had never visited.  A real estate agent picked him up at the 231st Street station on the No. 1 line.  ‘That neighborhood is unbelievable,’ he said. ‘It’s like the Hamptons in the Bronx.'”

Um, Mr. Babic, who has been living in New York for 18 years, you do realize that if you live on the 1 (even if you are in the Hamptons of the Bronx) you would need to switch to to the A at 59th Street and then at 42nd Street cross over to Grand Central on the 7 or the Times Square shuttle…. Don’t do it!
He didn’t:  “Mr. Babic’s sister, Mary Jean, who lives with her husband and two children in a small Park Slope co-op building, was rooting for a place near her.  But he was surprised by the high rents near her Brooklyn neighborhood.”
Mr. Babic, who has been living in New York for 18 years, with a sister living in Park Slope, why did it surprise you that rents in Park Slope are high?  When you walk around your South Street Seaport neighborhood are you magically transported back to the days of Moby Dick?  Did you expect to find farmland in Park Slope?

“He learned, too, that it was unrealistic to expect laundry in the brownstone walk-ups he was seeing, so he planned to ‘join the millions of other people’ in New York who avail themselves of a coin laundry.”

It’s unclear here who dropped the malaproprism “coin laundry,” Mr. Babic or Joyce Cohen, but if he finds a laundromat that costs less than $1 per load he’s in the Taxi Driver era.  [Editor’s note:  I would like to know who really dropped the idea that one “joins… millions other people” when one patronizes a laundromat.  That is such a New York Times-ism.  The whole concept that by doing something popular, one is entering the cultural zeitgeist and thus taking part in some immense human tidal wave.  The merest hint of a trend just thrills them.  It’s like opiates to a heroin addict.]
Isn’t the suspense killing you? Where will Mr. Babic wind up?
“One day, Mr. Babic was surfing computer listings while his then-girlfriend was circling ads in the paper.  She was the one who spotted a listing for an apartment on Eighth Avenue in Park Slope, just a block from Prospect Park and six blocks from Mary Jean Babic’s building.  At the brokerage office, ‘they had the keys in a little dish and you had to leave your driver’s license to take the key,’ Mr. Babic said. ‘We had to wait in line.’”
So sad!  “Then-girlfriend.” What happened?  And I wonder what paper the then-girlfriend was circling ads in that Mr. Babic couldn’t find online?

Anyway, that’s where he wound up.

He probably has more than a few neighbors who are worried. Why?
The New York Times could devote every Sunday paper solely to the insane arcana of New York real estate law and be publishing well beyond any of our lifetimes before they ran out of material.  Suffice it to say, under many circumstances, if you are renting an apartment to someone you won’t be the one setting the rent.  A lawyer friend of mine tells me “that confers a property right onto someone [a renter] who doesn’t own the property.”
But you know what? Let’s leave all this yucky rent-stabilized Brooklyn-living pleb sadness behind and return to the glittering world of Manhattan.  There, this is much better:  “Apartment 10E, as in Effervescent.”
What a cute dog! And look, we’re back in Renee Zellweger/Leelee Soberupski territory!  Doesn’t this sound like a fabulous woman to know?

“The two [the woman being profiled and her late husband] met in 1964, when she was a 23-year-old editorial secretary at Holt, Rinehart & Winston and he was a dashing writer and photographer 15 years her senior. A larger-than-life figure — at 6-foot-4, almost literally — Mr. Buckley used to breeze through the office when he wasn’t traveling the globe shooting pictures published in Life magazine and in his many books.”

So Mad Men! Which, by the way, get cracking Matthew Weiner! I know all about the contract disputes but I don’t care. Anyway, back to the Buckleys:

“When the couple married in 1973, Mr. Buckley was divorced and living in this three-bedroom apartment, which he had bought for $22,000. The location allowed his three children, who lived nearby with their mother, to visit easily on weekends. By 1974, the children were living with him full time.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment (because it is too painful to contemplate) a world where a 3-bedroom Upper East Side apartment could be bought for $22,000. Let’s instead parse the “they met in 1964, she was his publisher’s secretary, suddenly it’s 1973 and they are getting married”… oh, you scamp!
“In most respects, however, the apartment remains a time capsule recalling a quarter century of conviviality. ‘Peter used to call our apartment “10E as in effervescent,” which of course drove people crazy when they were trying to figure out the apartment number,’ Ms. Buckley said. But the description is apt.”
A tenth floor 3-bedroom Upper East Side apartment could be bought for $22,000 AND filled with effervescence! What does this time capsule look like?

“The array of cooking equipment, much of it antique, could have come directly from a well-equipped French country house, with a few touches from farther afield.  Copper pots of every description hang on the kitchen walls and dangle from the ceiling.  There’s a paella pan, a wooden ladle from Venice, a wooden bread board carved with a leaf, a brass ladle bearing an image of the sun, and a worn butter mold from Annecy in the French Alps, which the couple visited every year.”

“‘We also have the world’s biggest collection of plates,’ Ms. Buckley said almost apologetically. Dishes are referred to by size and place of origin — ‘the French reds, large and small; the Venetian rounds, large and small, the French bowls, the Paris bowls.  And the Buckley collection of cookbooks is so large, it occupies multiple shelves in what was formerly the children’s room. Many are vintage volumes from France and bear titles like ‘Je Sais Cuisiner’ and ‘365 Plats du Jour.'”

Holy crap! Do these guys know about this lady?

“When the Buckleys weren’t entertaining, they were often traveling, not only to Europe but also to the Caribbean for snorkeling and scuba diving, hence the helmet shells, tulip shells, starfish and other creatures from the sea. Their extensive art collection includes an image by a Huichol Indian in which a yellow face, bright as the sun, smiles out from a black background.  The work, made of yarn on beeswax, was their wedding present to each other.”

REREAD THAT LAST SENTENCE.  [Editor’s note:  My favorite sentence from that article was “The abundance of Hemingways is no surprise.”]

OK, let’s back away quietly from Mrs. Buckley and her well-thumbed copy of Je Sais Cuisiner and the yarn-beeswax thing-y.  I think what we would all like right now is a little simplicity.  Just a nice quiet studio maybe.

And, as any real estate broker worth his salt would tell you, it’s never been a better time to buy:

“The average price for studios dropped to $404,326 in 2010, from a high of $500,479 in 2008, according to the Douglas Elliman Report, an analysis of the decade’s sales data. A recent search of Manhattan listings on The New York Times real estate site and on found close to 200 studios available for $300,000 or less. An article about studios in The Times in 2009, before the market had bottomed out, found only a handful of studios in that price range.”

Mr. Babic, why are you renting in God-forsaken Brooklyn when you could just take your sofa cushion change and BUY a MANHATTAN studio?

You know, actually, since they’re practically giving apartments away, let’s go back to Mrs. Buckley/Renee/Leeloola’s neighborhood and look at something a little… larger.

Like Renee and Mrs. Buckley, I think three bedrooms would be a nice size for an apartment, and I’m in luck, because many Upper East Side/Yorkville developers agree with me:

“Stuart Moss, a senior vice president and associate broker at the Corcoran Group, said the new developments in Yorkville, which include three on East 85th Street — the Lucida, at No. 151; the Brompton, at No. 205; and the Georgica, at No. 305 —’have taken over a lot of those smaller, less-expensive former-tenement-type places that might have appealed to younger professionals.'”

Don’t you just get the shivers imagining yourself in a low-rise, less expensive, decades-old, scaled to the neighborhood building?  Blecch.  I want steel and glass and high floors and lots of door people and something built in this goddamned century!  And I am willing to pay for it:

“‘We structured our building to allow for a combination of two two-bedroom apartments into a 3,000-square-foot four-bedroom,’ said Douglas MacLaury, the senior vice president for development at the Mattone Group, ‘and that’s been one of our more successful products.’  The building, which has a children’s playroom and a game room for teens, is about a third sold, he said.”

“Prices for new condominiums are $1,400 to $1,600 a square foot, Mr. Moss said.”

My phone has a calculator.  Does yours?  When the guy at the phone store told me this I thought  “why in the world…?” but now I see how essential it is to have one.  So let’s see:  To secure that 3,000 square foot 2 @ 2-bedrooms combo I will call Mr. Moody at the bank and ask him to make out a cashier’s check for — oh my! — $4.2 to $4.8 million.

I will leave you with this: “The Letterpress Rug from Commune Design.”

I have a dog that has bladder problems and she has a rug very similar to this one. Except I didn’t pay $57 a square foot for hers –  I just dig out old New York Times‘s from public trash receptacles. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

4 thoughts on “GUEST POST: The Mysteries of New York Real Estate

  1. A M here. Let me be self-obsessed and be the first to comment on my own post. I just wanted to thank ihatenyt for disseminating my own sub-genre of NY Times hatred and, in true NY Times fashion, offer two nit-picky corrections to my own writing (the errors are mine, not the editor’s):

    CORRECTIONS: It would be folly for Mr. Babic to change from the 1 to the A at 59th Street (that George Foreman grill of a subway station in summer) to get to Grand Central had he moved to Bronxhampton. He would stay on the 1 to 42nd St (“the inside of a rabid dog’s mouth”, as I like to describe the summertime feel of it) which would put him closer to the Shuttle. Also, the genius behind Mad Men is Matthew Weiner, not Wiener.

    A M regrets the errors.

    1. Okay, I fixed the Weiner thing. I didn’t make the other corrections because just thinking about trying to understand NY subway routes makes my head hurt. I didn’t get to it before because I have been experiencing technical difficulties caused by wine in my keyboard.

    1. Still alive! I took an unplanned hiatus due to dissertation writing, freelance work, social commitments (drinking), Wall Street’s illegal pursuit of self-interest over justice and oppression over equality, plus my dog died. Working on a new post now.

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